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Lynda Balslev: Elevate this weeknight soup with orzo

Orzo is a pasta made from semolina flour, and when cooked it imparts a creamy texture to soups and pasta dishes -- and yes, it can also stand in as a substitute for rice, or even as an addition to rice dishes, such as rice pilaf.
Photo by Lynda Balslev

The key ingredient in this simple and delicious soup is orzo. Orzo is the Italian word for barley, but names can be deceiving, because orzo is not a grain. And despite its rice shape, orzo is not rice, even though orzo is also known as risoni in Italy.

Confused? Don’t be. Orzo is a pasta made from semolina flour, and when cooked it imparts a creamy texture to soups and pasta dishes — and yes, it can also stand in as a substitute for rice, or even as an addition to rice dishes, such as rice pilaf.

There are a number of ways to prepare orzo, thanks to its shape. Prepare it as you would pasta, cooking in generously salted water until al dente and serving warm or in a salad. It can also be prepared in a method similar to risotto, where a cooking liquid, such as chicken stock, is gradually added while stirring the pasta until the liquid is absorbed before adding more. The result will be a creamy risotto-like pasta dish, thanks to the starch released from the pasta while stirring. Orzo can also be mixed into rice after toasting the grains first to release their flavor.



This easy weeknight soup is forgiving and welcomes any stray vegetables hunkered in your refrigerator. It’s a wonderful way to use leftover chicken from a roasted or a store-bought bird. The addition of the orzo elevates it a notch, with the pasta’s starch infusing the stock with a comforting richness.

Chicken Orzo Soup

Active Time: 25 minutes



Total Time: 25 minutes

Yield: Serves 4

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 carrot, thinly sliced

1 celery rib, thinly sliced

1 small bulb fennel, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 cup orzo

6 cups chicken stock

2 cups shredded cooked chicken

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 to 2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley leaves

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the carrots, celery and fennel and saute until the vegetables are bright and crisp-tender, about 3 minutes more. Add the thyme and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the orzo and stir to coat and lightly toast, about 1 minute.

Pour in the stock, bring to a boil, and simmer until the orzo is tender, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken, lemon juice, salt and pepper and simmer until the chicken is heated through. Taste for seasoning. Stir in the parsley and serve.

Lynda Balslev is a cookbook author, food and travel writer, and recipe developer based in the San Francisco Bay area.


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